Arizona election officials partner with nonprofit to encourage people with autism, disabilities to vote

Feb 29, 2024, 4:35 AM

PHOENIX — Maricopa County election officials showed people with autism and intellectual disabilities how to cast ballots on Tuesday afternoon as part of a program called Vote the Spectrum.

The mock election included several pieces of equipment, including a voting machine and booths. Officials walked visitors through the voting process, from signing up to dropping off a ballot.

Several groups worked together to coordinate the mock election at First Place-Phoenix, which is on Third Street between Thomas and Osborn roads. The apartment complex, which is run by First Place AZ, helps residents with disabilities.

Denise Resnik, the founder of First Place AZ, said the voting process can be overwhelming for people with disabilities.

Social pressure, long lines, tight voting booths and overstimulating sounds can all pose hurdles, she added.

“When we think about our democracy, it is here to benefit everyone, and that includes people with disabilities,” Resnik told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “That’s why we’re working with the Secretary of State’s Office, Maricopa County Elections and the Recorder’s Office to make sure people know what accommodations can be made available to them prior to and during the elections process.”

How the mock election helped people with autism and other disabilities

First Place AZ launched Vote the Spectrum, an initiative to encourage neurodivergent people to vote, in October 2023. Campaign organizers reached out to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office for resources and support, and the two have been close partners since.

In fact, the idea for the mock election came from Celina Olivas, the director of community outreach for the Secretary of State’s Office.

“I have family with autism,” Olivas told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “A lot of people don’t know they can vote. … It’s very important to let them know what they need.”

Setting up the mock election at First Place-Phoenix is crucial, she added.

By going through the motions of voting in a safe and familiar place, voters with autism and other disabilities can feel more confident when they’re voting in the 2024 elections, Olivas said.

“I want to encourage all the counties with the poll workers and say people with neurodiversity, they need a different approach,” Olivas said. “I want to show them how to do it.”

People with disabilities encouraged to vote in 2024 elections

Community leaders with various disability rights organizations spoke during the event.

Lauren Heimerdinger, who introduced herself as neurodiverse, said voting is essential for her and other people with disabilities.

“It puts my voice out there,” Heimerdinger said. “It helps me have a voice for those that don’t have one or aren’t able to express their voice.”

Several people advocating on behalf of their family members with disabilities also spoke about the importance of voting.

Secretary of State Adrian Fontes said he has a child with Down syndrome and autism at home.

Although 7-year-old Jude — also known as “Captain Chaos” — is too young to vote, it’s important to appreciate the rich way people with disabilities see the world, Fontes said.

“That is part of what I think is important in our elected world, in our politics,” he said. “We have to have that diversity of views.”

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Arizona election officials partner with nonprofit to encourage people with autism, disabilities to vote